01 Feb Grandpa’s Journal from the Great Depression: Part 1
There’s a few things I need to get out of the way before we get started.
I didn’t really know my grandfather that well. For most of my life he lived down in Fouke, a good three hour drive if there’s no traffic.
While I was growing up, he only made a habit of calling us on birthdays and holidays, and sometimes showing up for a reunion just to grab a slice of Aunt Maggie’s pie.
In fact, if it wasn’t for my brother Lewis I probably wouldn’t even be writing this down right now.
Lewis is… well I guess I don’t really know how to explain him other than just to say that once you meet him you will not forget him.
We’d actually fallen out of touch with each other until last month when he contacted me on here to ask for help to translate grandpa’s diary.
It was an unusual request, but if you know Lewis that’s pretty much par for the course.
He told me that he wanted to share our grandfather’s experiences during the Great Depression with the whole world, but therefore was written in the old style Cajun French.
Given what I could remember Mom telling us I actually thought that might be a good idea.
Times were tough back then as I’m sure you know, but personal accounts of the time period are few nowadays. Maybe we could even get a publisher interested in publishing Grandpa’s autobiography.
I told Lewis to go ahead and send me a few scans of the journal, and I would start right away on the project.
I didn’t want to tell him my schedule was already packed, and that the journals were probably nothing too fantastic; his hopes were set so high I figured I had to see it through.
That was about two weeks ago, and we’re only halfway through these. It’s been…an unusual pastime.
My schedule is kind of hectic at the moment so I suggested that we split the workload of translation between the two of us.
Lewis will be using his account every other day so we can get it out there as soon as possible.
I guess there really isn’t anything else to say for now. Other than I’m sorry.
June 3, 1928
My name is Jake.
That’s all you need to know for now.
Who I am really doesn’t matter though, because at the end of the day we’re all remembered for our actions. Those speak louder than any testimony of words
I grew up alongside my two older brothers, Nathan and Tim in a small town that was only well known for three things: poverty, urban legends and moonshine.
You would be surprised how big a part those three things played in my life.
Living in the dirty south, my first clear memory as a young 12 year old boy is that of a black man hanging from an old oak tree near the road that leads into town.
He was hung because of color of course, but back then when people started to starve; leaving them out there in the trees seemed like a small justice to the rest of the folk in town.
The smell of death was something that wafted everywhere.
I think I remember the colored man most vividly cause the crows had picked out his eyes. One even clawed its way out from the man’s socket as our old horse buggy pulled us along toward the farmer’s market.
It was just after church and Pa was taking some of our crop in to sell to the city folk that liked to drive into town to buy our vittles.
I remember Nathan’s slack jaw hanging down as he gawked at the rich cars they drove in on the north stretch of Fouke.
Farmers were lining up to try and make a deal with the travelers, just a small bit of money could easily feed a family of four.
The tomatoes and eggplants we had brought were not full grown, but given Ma’s time with fever, Pa felt like he couldn’t wait another week to sell.
He weren’t just trying to feed our faces but get the medicines to keep her ticking a few more weeks until the doc returned from upstate.
Tim wasn’t quite as impressed with the city slickers as Nathan and I were. in fact the first thing he did when Pa stopped the buggy was spit on the ground.
“You boys stay with the cart. I won’t be long,” Pa told us as he grabbed the baskets and made his way to the line.
“Bunch of stick up their ass goody-two-shoes if you ask me,” Tim said as he kicked away at some of the gravel.
“You better watch your mouth or I’m gonna get Pa’s belt and whoop you myself,” Nathan snapped back.
“Shut up,” Tim said pushing him. I tossed a few stray bits of hay at my brother.
There was a well dressed girl about our age standing near to our cart as we started to fight, her eyes lit up with wonder and amusement as though she found our little quarrel entertaining.
“Y’all are just a bunch of guffawing idiots. That’s why these folks don’t give a rat’s ass about us down here in the booneys unless we make em care. I bet if we strung em up by their legs on them old oaks they would start caring,” Tim growled.
Pa returned a short time later with the crops still in hand and all three of us looked at each other anxiously.
“No sale today boys, let’s go home,” Pa said as he pulled on the bridle for the horse.
All three of us looked at the city folk as they got into the jalopies and rode off in the opposite direction without a care in the world.
That was the first time I really understood what jealousy could do to a heart.
When we got back to our farm, Pa told us to tend to the horses and clean up the barn before supper. I knew that he really meant for us to stay out of the way while he tended to Ma.
As we did our chores though, my mind drifted to other things. To that man hanging from the tree on the way into town, and to my desire to replace his corpse with those fancy city folk that were dooming us to starve.
“What if we did make them notice us?” I asked my brothers as we swept up the loose hay in the barn.
“What are you jabbering about Jake?” Tim asked.
“Them rich folk. What if we hit em where it hurt… made them pay for what they done to us,” I said.
“Yeah right. Ain’t no big wig gonna listen to three country boys,” Nathan told us.
My mind thought back to the prim and proper girl I had seen at the market.
“They will if we take what matters most to them,” I said with a smile.
My brothers were listening now. They knew that I was up to something and if it was one thing we were all good at, it was being devious.
But I told them to give me time until after supper to think. To figure out if the plan would really work.
That night as we all climbed into the bunk together, Tim and Nathan hadn’t forgotten my suggestion and pestered me until I spilled.
“We’re gonna kidnap one of their fat little brats. Hold a ransom, and make a fortune,” I said.
Nathan laughed. He thought the plan was outrageous. But Tim seemed to be onboard.
“We could do it next Sunday, maybe dad would let us borrow the buggy and go to town. He been saying he would let us go alone anyway,” he insisted.
Nathan was a bit reluctant but that changed as the week went on and Ma got worse. He could see that without medicines she wouldn’t last til the summer festival.
All three of us did our chores like we were regular school boys working hard for a reward. Nathan was the one to spring the question to Pa on Friday night after he had a few beers.
Everything was set to work perfectly.
June 9th and 10th 1928
I was working in the garden trying to pull weeds when Nathan called me to the back of the house. Ma had collapsed while trying to hang laundry.
Pa and Tim was off on a job until sundown.
Nathan and I hastily carried her inside to the couch, our bodies barely able to lift her to the kitchen.
I grabbed some cool water from the horse trough and splashed a bit on her face.
Nathan tried to get her to wake up as we sat there rubbing her arm and calling her name.
We tried that again and again.
But she never did. I held my dead mother’s hand for almost three hours, sobbing in and out of exhaustion as I refused to accept this was the end.
Nathan couldn’t even contain his frustration. He started to smash every dish in the kitchen and I slapped him down, glaring at him like a mother hen.
Together in our crazed tragic stupor we dutifully cleaned the mess he had made around the table.
Around Ma’s cold body.
When Pa got home and saw what had happened, he didn’t say a word. He went over to our neighbors and asked to use their telephone to let the coroner know.
They said they would come first thing Monday morning.
I know that they say spirits leave the body upon death, but the feelings of anger and loss I had that night as I went to bed told me that Ma hadn’t left us just yet.
It wasn’t fair.
Later I went down the stairs to grab a glass of water and I saw her cold gray body sitting there with her mouth agape and unmoving in the still night air, I knew that it was a warning from beyond the grave.
if I didn’t act soon that the same fate would befall all of us.
I didn’t want to die like that. Didn’t want to be thrown on a heap on the outskirts of a dried up road like I was trash.
So I went out to the buggy that next morning for our usual run in to town. Tim and Nathan were so overcome with grief they had slept in well past the rooster’s crow.
I kept my eyes straight ahead and kept asking God to forgive what I was about to do.
I was midway to the market when I saw the opportunity I had been waiting for.
A city slicker’s old Ford just sitting on the side of the road with a flat tire. The dad was sticking his head under the hood as two kids giggled in the seat and waved toward me.
I reached for the old shotgun that Tim had secreted away under the driver side seat.
Their smiles faded a few minutes later when I blew their father’s head off. It split apart like a balloon spilling his innards onto the radiator and windshield
That was the first time I had killed a man.
It felt more numbing than I had expected.
I pointed the gun toward the two in the back and told them to get on my buggy like I was some kind of outlaw.
They were sobbing and crying as I jumped out and slammed the hood of their car straight against their daddy’s skull.
I will never forget that sound it made. Like an egg cracking against a sizzling pan.
I turned the buggy around and told them to chin up and act like they were fine as we moved back toward the open country roads.
By breakfast I had taken them both to the barn and used the horse bridles to tie them near where we used to keep the pigs. They moaned and whined a bit as I fastened the knots and gave them a bucket to piss in.
I knew I would need my brothers help for what would come next.
Now, let me stop here and tell ya whoever you are reading this, I’m sure you think me a devil now for the crimes I done already. If so you should stop now cause you would be absolutely right.
I done lived through these sins and done paid the price for em, so I will tell you the same as I said years back to my brothers: we do what we have to for survival.
Even if it means making a deal with a devil.
I waited until Pa had decided to take a afternoon nap to tell Nathan and Tim what I had done.
They were frantic at first given the blood I had shed, but also eager to get things underway.
Nathan was the first to get over his nerves and go check the barn to see my prized trophies.
“You just watch, big brother. Their Ma will pay through the nose to get them back, and we’ll be on our way to Easy Street in no time,” I told Tim.
Nathan returned a few minutes later with a look of confusion on his face.
“I thought you said there were two of them?” he asked.
My eyes got wider than saucer plates as I raced to the barn, worried that one of the kids had escaped.
What I found though, was reason enough for me to remember and recount all of my experiences in a journal.
Because tied up there next to the trough was not two children at all.
Now there were three.